It’s Thursday, Ladies and Gentlemen. I’ve got a (digital) stack of books to get through these next two weeks. Today, my interests fell to the blue collar/tin foil hat brigade thriller Set Me Alight by Bill Leviathan. Read on for my thoughts.
Set Me Alight is a conspiracy thriller about the story of Pete, a down on his luck 25 year old, who is struggling to keep jobs and relationships afloat. Desperate for work, he travels to Montana where he meets Paul, a seasoned forest firefighter, who is willing take him on as an employee. Before you are able to appreciate their dynamic, the story kicks off on its roller coaster conspiracy aspect that is part Erin Brokovich and other parts Mission Impossible. The results are mixed.
It becomes apparent, once you slush through the first half of the book, that Leviathan’s strength is his ability to craft anxiety and urgency in his scenes. Once our main characters find themselves on their quest to take down “the man,” you are not only willing to ignore any inaccuracies, but you fully embrace them as you are taken at full steam from page to page. When you are not having the political subplots forced down your throat with blunt execution, you are definitely along for the ride.
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Where the book falls flat is its biggest problem. The story is told from the perspective of Pete. And, Pete. Is. Angry.
The first chapter does a poor job of selling the rest of the book because you are being introduced to these characters by a whiny, alcoholic 25 year old; who gives no explanation for his anger outside that he is a failure of a human being. It strikes a low tone early on that I struggled to find present again in the rest of the novel, which leaves me to feel like the first chapter could be cast out altogether (otherwise, I fear, most people would give up early).
What kept me interested is the early relationship of Pete and Paul because you are given a well-developed character that is telling a much-less developed character to get his life right. Pete listens, which tells me that he has Daddy issues that lead to his abuses and vices (if this is ever addressed in the rest of the book, I missed it). More Pete back story or “peaks and valleys” would help the readers understand the character and sympathize with him.
Other issues lay with the first half the book telling a completely different tale than the second half. With the book cashing in at 46,000 words, it is bizarre for it to wait so long to tell the real story. The first half is a depressing allegory on rich vs. poor and loss. The second half is the high-stakes thriller you are promised in all of the story’s blurbs. I am not sure if the author ran out of story or made a point to keep the book short, but the big reveal at the end deserved a much longer book (not just a sequel). Many could agree, once they read it, the book doesn’t feel finished.
When it is all said and done, I had fun with this book. Don’t expect to learn anything new, but I imagine this book’s audience is out there.
Thomas William Shaw is an author and stage actor from Birmingham, AL. He lives with his wife, Lauren, their children, and their cats in a quiet place. Occasionally he will post about it.